Fairtrade Sourcing in Assam

Assam is a remote tea producing region in northern India, where most tea is produced on large plantations or estates and is picked by employed workers. Tea from Assam is prized for its strong robust and distinctive flavours and forms an essential ingredient in many UK retailers’ and brands’ blends.

Assam is a challenging context to work in, with many people facing chronic poverty and poor living and working conditions, with low cash wages, increasing costs of production and low market prices. Fairtrade started working in Assam more than 20 years ago and though it remains a challenging region, we remain committed to working with producers to improve the lives and living conditions for workers.

At Fairtrade we require compliance to a rigorous set of standards containing social, economic and environmental criteria. Our standards help protect workers’ rights and ensure that the Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium delivers benefits for farmers and workers. Due to market dynamics and low demand for Fairtrade tea (and a decline in overall tea consumption), Fairtrade plantations in Assam sell only a small percentage (around five percent) of their tea on Fairtrade terms which, when combined with the other systemic challenges mean few producers are able to meet and maintain compliance with the Fairtrade Standards.

For these reasons, there are currently few Fairtrade-certified producer groups in Assam (around one percent of the 800 estates in Assam are Fairtrade certified), resulting in a limited supply of Fairtrade-certified Assam tea. We recognise that there may not be enough certified Assamese tea to supply all of the Fairtrade tea products sold in the UK market. We are working with UK retailers and brands that carry the FAIRTRADE Mark to continue to source as much of their tea on Fairtrade terms as possible. Occasionally, when there are supply shortages of certified tea from the Assam region, partners may need to source some non-certified volumes until more can be sourced on Fairtrade terms, enabling partners to keep their commitments to the wider Fairtrade tea groups and workers in all global origins.

In these cases, this information will be clearly identified on the back of pack with the statement; Fairtrade tea (excluding tea sourced from Assam).

Under this approach:

  • Tea estates supplying non-certified volumes will not be able to claim that they provide Fairtrade tea.
  • Retailers and brands will be clear ‘on pack’ about Assam tea which is not being sourced on Fairtrade terms.
  • Products containing Fairtrade-certified tea from Assam will not have to carry the statement and will be 100 percent Fairtrade.

We want to see lasting improvements for producers in Assam which is why we are continuing to work in the region and actively exploring how best we can support more producers to meet the Fairtrade Standards, driving positive impact for workers. We will also continue our work to increase demand for Fairtrade tea which, through the support of Fairtrade shoppers, will deliver benefits for Fairtrade producers across the globe.

13/09/21 Update: A new Fairtrade approach to tea in Assam

After many years of supporting tea producers in Assam through certification and seeing some short term gains for those workers within the Fairtrade system, it has become apparent to us through our work with our local partners, coupled with our own research and work on the ground, that a new approach is required to address the deeply entrenched and complex challenges unique to the Assamese tea sector.

Our experience tells us that these historic challenges prevalent in the region require us to pioneer a new way of working – one that learns from Fairtrade’s tried and trusted standards which have proven to be effective in tackling poverty and inequality in other tea producing regions around the world, adapted to the realities of working in Assam. 

This is why Fairtrade is working with its key UK tea partners and the Fairtrade producer network in the region, NAPP, to develop this new approach to Assamese tea that will support producers and drive impact and improvements for workers. We and our partners remain committed to the principles of Fairtrade for producers to receive minimum prices in times of market price drops, plus an extra payment to support their communities.

The new approach will ensure workers get the crucial core benefits of Fairtrade involvement on the way to full certification. Our ambition is to work with all relevant stakeholders so that we can collectively ensure that every actor in the tea sector plays their part in achieving a sustainable tea sector – a sector that respects workers’ rights and delivers a decent livelihood.

Improving the situation for Assamese tea workers beyond what has been achieved so far will, we appreciate, be challenging, but we will not walk away from the workers who are at the heart of the production of the nation’s favourite drink. Fairtrade and our partners are committed to a sustainable future, for tea workers and the tea supply chain.

Read more about Fairtrade sourcing